He has been punished enough by your united disapproval. Now it is time to forgive him and comfort him. Otherwise he may become so bitter and discouraged that he won't be able to recover. Please show him now that you still do love him very much.
- 2 Corinthians 2:6-8 TLB
The Lord gave me these verses a few years ago, after my husband and I asked our older son, Joseph, to leave our home because of his rebelliousness. We and our younger son, John, were indeed united in our disapproval of Joseph's destructive and disruptive behavior. We knew his conduct was wrong, and that it was a threat to our family's well-being. And we were often hurt and bewildered by Joseph's open hostility toward us. As a result, I believe we often acted even worse than he did. What began as correction and rebuke on our part eventually turned into bitter criticism and condemnation. Needless to say, our tactics often did more harm than good, and the strife and division in our family escalated. When the Lord brought these verses to my attention, I felt convicted and ashamed. I turned to God in repentance and asked Him to help me forgive my son so that I could give him the love, acceptance and comfort he desperately needed. The Lord answered that prayer by changing my heart and bringing healing to my family.
In 1 Corinthians 5:5 TLB, the apostle Paul talks about how sometimes it's necessary for us to "cast out" someone "from the fellowship" and "into Satan's hands to punish him, in the hope that his soul will be saved when our Lord Jesus Christ returns." Paul says this because he knows that allowing people to experience the natural consequences of their misdeeds is an effective means of discipline. As painful as it was for my husband and me to turn our son out of our home, we knew it was the only way to force him to become accountable for his actions. It also forced him to rely less on his family and more on God for his provision and protection. Paul also voices his concerns about the offender's influence on the fellowship as a whole: "Don't you realize that if even one person is allowed to go on sinning, soon all will be affected?" (1 Corinthians 5:6 TLB) My husband and I knew that if we continued to tolerate our son's open rebellion against us and God, we would be risking the spiritual health of our younger son and our family as a whole. But just as there is a time to confront a sinner, there is also a time to "forgive and comfort him" so that "he won't become so bitter and discouraged that he won't be able to recover." (2 Corinthians 2:7 TLB) Confronting and disciplining sinners should be for the purpose of their restoration, not their ruin. And as Paul states, "A further reason for forgiveness is to keep from being outsmarted by Satan; for we know what he is trying to do." (2 Corinthians 2:11 TLB) Refusing to forgive a sinner at the proper time can allow the devil to take advantage of the discord in the fellowship or family, creating greater division and dissension. The Scriptures instruct us exactly how God expects us to confront and correct others: "If a Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help him back onto the right path, remembering that next time it might be one of you who is in the wrong." (Galatians 6:1 TLB) If necessary discipline is administered in gentleness and humility, with love as the motivation, God's presence and power will be there to make it as effective as the offender allows. Our son never did turn to us in remorse and repentance, but the Lord knew it was time for us to "pour on the love," just the same. (2 Corinthians 2:8 The Message Bible) And because we obeyed His leading, our family was restored and God was glorified. Of course, not all situations like these can have a happy ending. Believers are called to put God first in their lives, and sometimes that creates lasting conflict between us and others, even where family members are concerned. (Luke 12:51-53) But it's our responsibility to discover God's will in these matters, and to do what pleases and glorifies Him most. (Ephesians 5:10)
Prayer: Lord, remind me that there's a time to confront and a time to comfort, and help me to know which principle to apply when. Make me steadfast in faithfulness to You and Your Word, but make me loving and forgiving, too. Thank You that as I am sensitive and obedient to Your leading, my relationships will please and glorify You!
- J. M. Farro